As I see it, plants have two general orientations towards mobile beings like us humans who might choose to eat them. They either want to seduce us or poison us.
See, it all comes down to propagation. If being consumed into an animal’s digestive system is going to help the plant move into new territories, as well as provide a nutrient-rich setting for its babies to grow and flourish, then plants (i.e. generally fruits, whose seeds are either not consumed and end up in a compost heap, or else pass through the digestive system unharmed) are all about getting eaten up. They “want” to do anything possible to entice those who might consume them. (Of course, humans have also gotten into this game and over millenia have bred fruit varieties that are even sweeter and more desirable to consume.)
On the other hand, if being consumed into an animal’s digestive system is going to harm the plant — by removing its source of producing its own food (i.e. leaves) or even worse, destroying its seeds (i.e. grinding seeds into flour) or removing and consuming the seed-producing parts before the seeds are mature (i.e. zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers …) — then plants have a pretty pressing “motivation” to prevent consumption, or at least make whomever consumed them sorry to have done it.
Now not all those plants have become particularly good at this strategy, however. And humans, once again a part of the picture, have made concerted efforts over the history of cooking and cultivation to eliminate the unpleasant toxins that edible plants produce. For example, selective propagation in tended gardens has, over the course of millenia, turned pretty bitter wild greens into pleasantly mild lettuce. And the age-old traditions of sprouting and fermenting grains significantly reduce the toxins that pop up when humans smash and obliterate the reproductive potential of these seeds.
Also, humans and other animals are not always affected by the particular toxins that a given plant might produce; different populations of animals, and specifically humans, have adapted to the toxins and developed innate abilities to deal effectively with them. Ultimately, different individuals are sensitive to different things — thus, while a host of people that are probably reading this wouldn’t consume gluten unless their life depended on it, my husband and I find that it doesn’t seem to cause us any major problems. But put an onion anywhere near my food, even a TINY little bit, and (especially if I forget to take lots of activated charcoal with it) I’m a total mess digestively for the next 12+ hours. And give my husband a cruciferous veggie (i.e. broccoli, cabbage, turnip, radish, arugula … the list is VERY long) to eat and he has an asthma attack the next day. (Here’s an article that might partially explain why, although I’m not convinced that this is the whole picture of the problem for him.)
My point is, eating plant products — particularly eating more fruits and vegetables, which you hear pretty much everywhere these days — is not de facto a beneficial thing. Even fruits, which encourage us to consume them with their sweetness, are out to be consumed not to improve our health, but to extend their territory and continuation upon the planet. Their general long-term effect on our bodies has no major bearing upon this task. So if they spike our blood sugar a little bit (which happens to a lot of people when they eat fruit — although I suspect that for many of these people, underlying issues with blood sugar related to excess sugar consumption probably play a big role in this) this is not particularly relevant, from the fruit’s perspective. They just want to be our friends — likeable, loveable, supremely edible!
Eating animals, on the other hand, is a totally different matter. When you eat meat, the natural defenses of the animal (i.e. ones of motion — running, fighting back — and all controlled by functioning brain activity) have already been rendered useless when you or someone else killed the animal. And when you eat animal products like dairy and eggs, the animals that produce them are ones who have been domesticated to the point that they are willing (and hopefully able to choose) to not fight the humans who attempt to take these products from them.
Which is not to say that one should only eat animals and animal products. Far from it. I’ve tried it, and it can get really boring. (Although for some folks, it might work — like I said, we’re all different …) But it is to say that if you think just eating more fruits and vegetables will make you healthier, you might want to think again. And maybe try an elimination diet in which you cut out various classes of plant materials to see how it affects you. Just because you’ve been eating a certain class of foods your entire life does not necessarily mean they’re not doing you harm. J loves sauerkraut and coleslaw and broccoli, and probably ate a cruciferous veggie most every day of his life prior to us trying their elimination. But they’re definitely not his friends, at least not right now.
Them there cabbages (or onions or peppers or wild edible greens or you-fill-in-the-blank) can be some VERY angry vegetables!! Better watch out, lest they mount a sneak attack in your belly!!
Photo Credit: karimian on Flickr.
This post is part of Monday Mania.
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